You may not realize it, but every time you take a bite of food, you can taste its history. At its very beginning, the food you enjoy started with a group of people who took certain crops and animals they cultivated and raised, to creatively bring them together, raising their flavor profile turning them into one tasty dish. Generations after generation added their own twist, often influenced by other groups of people, to shape those dishes into the favorites you now know.
Welcome to una, a celebration of how different cuisines from all over the world, influence each other, to show how similar we are… with a healthier twist.
My name is Margaret Pagaduan. Since I became a Registered Dietitian (RD) over 10 years ago, I primarily worked in the clinical setting. Over the years, in consulting patients in the hospital, as well as learning to cook for myself, friends and family, I began to see how important food is to one’s identity and happiness. As I began to work with patients, educating them on guidelines on how to eat for optimal health, I saw how difficult it was for some people to let go of the foods they grew up with, because they weren’t “healthy”, they didn’t fit in the guidelines I was talking about- be it low salt, heart healthy, carbohydrate-controlled, or whatever preventative measures they needed. I heard resistance to the advice I gave them; they felt they had to give up the favorite foods of their youth, the foods that had comforted them for most of their lives.
Born and raised in the diverse San Francisco Bay Area, as well as doing my fair share of traveling, I have been lucky to be exposed to many other cultures and their foods. Growing up, I never gave a second thought to eating the Filipino food my grandmother and mother made for us, until health issues started to affect my family. It was only until then that I began to wonder, “How can I make Filipino food healthier? How could I make it lower in salt to help with my family’s history of hypertension? How can I do this without compromising the overall flavors, so that people wouldn’t feel deprived, feel like they’re eating food that doesn’t taste good?” I then started to think globally, “How have other cultures influenced each other’s cuisines over the years? Can we take healthy guidelines from certain cultures and incorporate them into others?”
These days, the political climate emphasizes our differences, but really, are we all that different? Look at how many different countries have noodles of some sort. Did those different versions come from just one singular place of influence? If we trace back to foods’ origins, would we find groups of different people coming together, learning from each other, in order to conceive the dishes your grandmother taught you to make, the dishes you order at the restaurants, and the dishes you see on TV. Today, hopefully we can learn from these culinary pioneers- in the kitchen and beyond.
I hope with una, by learning more about the history of food, we can bridge the gap between people even as others constantly try to divide us, to see how connected we all really are, how connected we have been all this time. And… because I’m an RD, I have to try to make these dishes a bit “healthier”, without forsaking their flavors. Because sure, food is a form of sustenance, but it’s also a way for people to connect. It’s meant to be enjoyed and savored.
So let’s get this thing started, shall we? This is going to be fun!
una. One people. One love for food.